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E-Waste and the Circular Economy

Updated: Apr 18, 2022

The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) recently held an event discussing the circular potential of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in Europe. The basis of this discussion was rooted in the circular economy that is transforming industrial Europe and moving it towards a more sustainable economic model. Circular economics is tied to key European Union (EU) policies and initiates, such as the EU Green Deal, the EU Recovery Plan, and Horizon Europe, while also increasingly becoming a part of business strategies and value chains. One of the biggest problems that circular business models aim to address is the issue of waste, which includes looking at the use of resources across value chains, energy and water consumption, the socio-economic and environmental demands, and land use.

Due to the relevance of waste, the event began by stating that WEEE is one of the fastest growing streams of waste in Europe, generating an estimated 53.6 million tons of e-waste yearly and that is soon expected to double. In an effort to tackle growing waste streams, the CIRC4Life project developed and tested three circular business models: co-creation, sustainable consumption, and collaborative recycling and re-use. During the discussion on the project it was stated that by adopting the three models that WEEE actors could better adapt their products to specific stakeholder settings through creating a better understanding of customers preferences, involving stakeholders in product development, and building stronger relationships with actors in the value chain. Also, it found the continued dialogue with stakeholders increased engagement, which is suggested to hasten time span between customers receiving information and acting. The reuse model faced two notable challenges that hamper its utility, that of the state of products and restriction of spare parts. These challenges can be mitigated through more robust extended producer responsibility (EPR). Eco-design was also emphasized as a critical component as products that are designed to be reused or recycled decrease EPR costs and increase circularity. Lastly, it highlighted the importance of communication and awareness campaigns in engaging customers and companies to behave more sustainably, informing potential customers, and educating students. However, it is also important to note that these changes are not immediate but take time.

Overall, the discussion highlighted Europe’s leadership in creation of e-waste but also its potential for becoming a sustainability leader through its adoption of circular business models.



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